16 November 2011

Common Allergies. Part 1

Posted by Jody under: Allergies .

Having an allergy means that your body is sensitive to a substance that to most people is harmless. The substance causing the symptoms is called an allergen. Because the offending allergen is usually a specific protein, people may be allergic to only one substance, or to several.

The most common types of allergies are:

Outdoor Allergies
Indoor allergies
Animal and Insect Allergies
Medication allergies
Food Allergies
Latex Allergies

Important: You could be allergic to something not listed here. If you suspect you have an allergy, see the section Do I have an Allergy?, and be sure to discuss the symptoms with your doctor or another health care professional. According to the American Medical Association, about 40-50 million Americans are affected by allergies.

Outdoor Allergies

Pollen. Certain trees, grasses and weeds reproduce by producing a fine, powdery substance called pollen. Air carries the pollen from the male structures to the female ones. Because it is airborne, pollen can enter the human body in several ways. As air is breathed in through the nose, nasal structures filter out the pollen. In the nasal mucus membranes the pollen comes into contact with the mast cells. Recognizing the pollen as an allergen, most cells start producing histamine. The histamine dilates the blood vessels, causing swelling, inflammation and congestion. Because pollen is so fine, it can come in contact with the mucus membranes of the eyes, leading to watery, itchy eyes. Pollen that lands on hair, clothing or pet fur is touched by the allergy sufferer’s hands, which then touch the eyes or nose, creating the allergic cascade of symptoms.

Most pollen allergies are respiratory, affecting the nose, eyes, mouth and breathing. They are usually seasonal. In certain climates, however, allergy sufferers may have little respite, especially if they are allergic to different pollens which “bloom” throughout the year. Humidity usually makes the symptoms worse, as the pollen get trapped in the moisture of the air and remains airborne for longer periods of time.

Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, is an allergic reaction characterized by sneezing, coughing, itchy nose, mouth and throat, congestion and/or runny nose. The offending allergens are usually pollens, molds, dust mites and animal allergens. The CDC estimates that about 26 million Americans suffer from hay fever each year, with 17.5 million sufferers being 45 or younger. Statistics indicate that close to 9.3% of the population in the United States suffers from allergic rhinitis. This adds up to $4 billion in lost work productivity!

Allergic rhinitis is linked to chronic sinusitis, an inflammation of the facial sinuses, affecting some 35 million Americans. The National Institutes of Health’s Office of Alternative Medicine is studying the use of complementary therapies, including oral immunotherapy, for hay fever and other allergies.

Indoor allergies: mold, mites and pets. While pollen is more seasonal in nature, allergies to these indoor allergens runs year-round, sometimes referred to as “perennial” (versus “seasonal”). Symptoms tend to be primarily respiratory in nature. Perhaps you only have problems when cleaning out a closet, or when spending long periods of time in a damp basement, or when cleaning the bathroom. Molds can be found both indoors as well as outdoors. Raking leaves or turning a mulch pile can be particularly irritating. Using a filter mask when performing these activities can lessen their negative effects. Dust mites are especially problematic, as the irritating particles are very small, and get everywhere. The treatment section discusses ways to minimize exposure.

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